Amid Big Mouth’s litany of witticisms about menstruation, hormones, and fucking pillows are a handful of subject matters that the animated Netflix hit has handled rather well. For an example of this, we can heavily recommend the season two episode “The Planned Parenthood Show,” a bold, idiosyncratic approach to the subject of women’s reproductive rights. It’s definitely a series that contains multitudes, which we can undoubtedly factor into its ability to maintain such a devoted audience. After all, Netflix didn’t commit to three additional seasons for nothing.
So it was particularly puzzling when season three’s introduction of Ali (Ali Wong), a new student who identifies as pansexual, included a really off-base summation of her sexuality, along with an ill-informed dig at bisexuals and a mishandling trans identity, all in the span of, like, less than two minutes. Ali (a Ravenclaw, apparently) describes her pansexuality as an interest in “boys, girls, and everyone in between.” When Nick, who fancies himself a Gryffindor, mentions that he thought the same applied to bisexuals, Ali incorrectly dismisses bisexuality as “so binary” before launching into a deeper explanation that uses food to explain gender identity, and other classic conversational land mines that we should absolutely leave behind.
The scene rightfully garnered some pushback from LGBTQ+ viewers, who noted that the definitions were not only incorrect—bisexuality, as GLAAD outlines, is not limited to an attraction to any specific gender within the binary—but that the scene pushed a narrative that often pits bisexuals against the rest of the queer community. In addition, the irresponsible descriptions of trans identity (“a taco that was born a burrito”/ “a burrito that is transitioning into a taco”) came with some pretty harmful implications by considering transgender people an entirely different category altogether. While some may want to argue that these are the kind of misunderstandings that are common among children, the scene largely pointed to a writers room that was ill-equipped to tackle this particular subject.
While we’ve come to expect silence or doubling down from creators facing public backlash, co-creator Andrew Goldberg did something woefully rare: He apologized on behalf of all of Big Mouth’s creators, and he apologized well. Via a tweet that included the scene in question, Goldberg admitted that the team “missed the mark” and that they “could have done better.” He went on to thank the communities that vocalized their issues with the approach: “Thank you to the trans, pan, and bi communities for further opening our eyes to these important and complicated issues of representation. We are listening and we look forward to delving into all of this in future seasons.”
Goldberg’s fellow creators Nick Kroll, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett have not provided any additional comment, but it’s still marginally reassuring that some are not averse to claiming responsibility for their mishaps or actively listening to the communities they have harmed (even unintentionally). Here’s hoping that this conversation leads to more thoughtful approaches to serious topics like identity. It makes the follow-up dick jokes way more enjoyable.